A unique document in a genre far too often labeled as overdone and expired.
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Given the self-loathing angst of Cloud Nothing’s 2012 masterpiece Attack on Memory, it might be surprising to learn that frontman and songwriter Dylan Baldi has a fantastic sense of humor. “Listened to the leak of that new cloud nothings album, not at all what i was expecting from them, really awful shit,” Baldi tweeted from his band’s Twitter account on March 6, almost a month before the album in question, Here and Nowhere Else, hit shelves. This quip wasn’t some sort of weird marketing ploy: Here and Nowhere Else had, in fact, leaked extremely prematurely. Baldi probably wasn’t happy about this leak, but chose to address it with humor and brevity, a mature approach for a 22-year old, especially one thrust into the music industry as just a teenager.
Or maybe Baldi was able to joke about this unfortunate circumstance because he realizes that, of all artists recording and releasing music today, Cloud Nothings is the band least likely to gain any extra benefit from an early leak. Baldi’s music is so immediate and forceful that a month more for buzz to build up wouldn’t change anyone’s reaction to his art. Here and Nowhere Else, a grand refinement of Attack on Memory‘s brooding garage rock, demands incessant replaying even after its first listen. The drums here are stronger and more frantic than ever before, and the snarl Baldi sporadically employed for Attack emerges frequently, yet always sounds vital. New additions to Cloud Nothings’ adrenaline-rushing sound can be heard too: risky yet graciously executed tempo and dynamic changes are abundant, and unexpectedly positive and hopeful lyrics pervade the music.
Even though Baldi’s words have taken a happier turn on his fourth album as Cloud Nothings, his music remains thoroughly overcast. “I’m moving forward, while I keep the past around me,” Baldi observes on “Pattern Walks”, but this optimistic message is paired with anxious, paranoid guitar lines and doom-laced percussive blasts. His anthemic cries of “I’m losing it, but what do I care?” on “Giving Into Seeing” are accompanied by morose, raging sounds, which soon swell into overwrought shouts of “SWALLOW!” and despair-driven guitar bends. Lead single “I’m Not Part of Me” is Here and Nowhere Else‘s best example of Baldi’s contrasting lyrics and sound: “I’m moving towards a new idea/you’re not what I really need” is about as buoyant a phrase as Baldi has ever delivered, but the slow crescendo of power chords underlying it is absolutely bleak.
Yet, despite the darknesses of Here and Nowhere Else, its overall mood is far brighter than its predecessor. Whereas Attack on Memory tracks like “Stay Useless” and “Wasted Days” conveyed 100% despair, the desolation of Here and Nowhere Else is subdued by somewhat sunnier guitar chords, as well as Baldi’s gentler vocals (well, when he isn’t screaming). “Just See Fear” is only subtly dismal, its jaunty guitars and relaxed vocals outweighing the inevitable darkness of a Cloud Nothings track. “You don’t really seem to care, and/I don’t even talk about it”, lyrical highlights from “No Thoughts”, coexist with guitars mostly bright, yet faintly grim. Both these songs also progress into shouted catharsis, moments when the darkness of Baldi’s music shines through more obviously. Even during these intense breakouts of screaming, though, there’s a positivity to be heard that never manifested on Attack on Memory.
It’s a bit odd that Here and Nowhere Else sounds so optimistic given its impressively ferocious drumming and blindsiding tempo shifts. Both of these musical elements lend themselves to anxiety, fear, and anger quite well, yet Baldi uses them here to convey confidence. Opener “Now Hear In” begins with midpaced, overdriven guitar rumble that smoothly quickens into a mosh pit rally. This faster portion, led by intense, technically astounding drum work, calms to its previous pace for a second verse, only to reverse again for the second chorus. “Quieter Today” follows, and this track makes even better use of tempo shifts. Its riotous verses keep their pace into the pre-chorus, which ends with a quick pause, building up the tension for a decrease in speed, yet a striking increase in forcefulness.
After “Now Hear In” and “Quieter Today” comes “Psychic Trauma”, the most blatant example of Baldi’s songwriting advancements. Possibly the album’s most galvanizing track, it starts as a dismal guitar dirge embellished with lyrics about the numbness of a bad relationship, but, after forty-five seconds, transforms into a rapid, fiery battery of guttural guitars and pounding percussion. “I can’t believe what you’re telling me is true/my mind is always wasted listening to you”, Baldi sighs over this instrumentation, and then adds even more aggression to this same soundtrack, its newfound intensity stark enough to allow Baldi to scream and repeat the song’s first verse over it. Although a short period of minor tranquility appears next, this brief passivation ascends into a brutal, manic sonic assault. The song’s last thirty seconds are particularly thrilling, as the guitars and drums both go as apeshit as they possibly can, forming a sea of dizzying, adrenaline-rushing, technically bedazzling garage rock grandeur. It’s the best example of what makes Here and Nowhere Else such a triumph, and one of the most visceral garage rock tracks in a while (although Baldi’s own “Wasted Days” is a strong competitor).
Here and Nowhere Else is a clear step forward for Dylan Baldi and his garage rock gang, yet it’s not far removed from Cloud Nothings’ breakthrough Attack on Memory. Its advancements are subtle enough to fully satisfy Attack lovers, yet are also sharp enough to earn Baldi a new wave of critical acclaim. Although it’s a surprisingly happy album, it’s still got enough darkness to perfectly convey the frenzy of Baldi’s very existence. Above all this, though, it’s a unique document in a genre far too often labeled as overdone and expired, an album that’s bound to win Cloud Nothings a slew of new listeners and confirm them as leaders of the pack. Baldi’s genre gets the last laugh, but he’s been cracking jokes from the very beginning.